TV: SUN SPORTS
TIME: PREGAME COVERAGE STARTS AT 6:30 P.M.
A mid-August sweep that capped a disastrous first month out of the All-Star break had the Minnesota Twins' playoff chances looking bleak.
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Suddenly, a surprising winning streak has pushed the Twins into a postseason spot while the Tampa Bay Rays are the ones starting to feel things slipping away.
Minnesota goes for a three-game sweep of the Rays on Thursday night as it looks to win a seventh straight game for the first time in more than four years.
The Twins (65-61) sat four games back of the AL's second wild-card spot on Aug. 19 after dropping three straight to the Yankees to open this 10-game trip, falling to 9-21 in the second half. But after a four-game sweep of Baltimore and a pair of wins over Tampa Bay, Minnesota is back in playoff position, a half-game ahead of Texas.
Tommy Milone has played a part in two wins during the Twins' streak, which with a win Thursday would be their longest since and eight-game run in June 2011.
In a 4-3 victory in Baltimore on Friday, Milone retired 13 consecutive hitters to start the game and left after allowing three runs and five hits in 5 1-3 innings.
Milone (6-3, 3.69 ERA) was then called on in a pinch two days later during Sunday's 4-3, 12-inning win over the Orioles. The left-hander was the last of eight Twins pitchers used and picked up his first career save with a perfect 12th inning.
"We showed that we're not giving up," Milone told MLB's official website. "We just go out and battle and we are going to grind out games until the very end. Obviously it didn't work out for us in New York, but we didn't let that get us down. I think it's going to help us in the end."
Milone is 2-2 with a 6.17 ERA in four career starts against the Rays, none this season.
While the Twins have driven through the jam-packed wild-card standings, Tampa Bay (62-64) is stuck right in the middle. The Rays' third consecutive loss Wednesday pushed them three games back of Minnesota while still behind three other teams.
Opportunities were there the last two days, but the Rays have left 21 runners on base so far in the series.
"A disappointing loss to say the least," manager Kevin Cash said after his team went 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position in Wednesday's 5-3 loss. "We've talked about it time and time again, when we get opportunities to score, we've got to somehow find a way to get those guys across. We did not."
Tampa Bay hopes Drew Smyly can help break its skid. Smyly (1-2, 3.42) will make his third start since coming off a three-month disabled list stint with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.
The left-hander's first start back was underwhelming - five runs over four innings in a 5-3 loss to the Rangers on Aug. 16 - but he picked up his first win in nearly a year on Friday.
Smyly, who's 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA in four career starts against the Twins, held the A's scoreless over 5 2-3 innings in a 2-1 victory in Oakland, surrendering just six singles on 91 pitches for his first victory since Aug. 27, 2014.
"We all said we were very optimistic after that start that he would bounce right back," Cash said, "and he made us look smart because he did."
With his 3-for-5 day Wednesday, Joe Mauer has reached base in 28 of 29 career games at Tropicana Field. He is hitting .404 in St. Petersburg with a .507 OBP.